Every year crowds gather on Putney Bridge in London to watch the famous Oxford v. Cambridge rowing competition. While the two universities are often intertwined, the cities could not be any more different.
Oxford University is not one campus, but a collective of thirty-eight independent colleges darted about the city centre. The University is the oldest of it’s kind. Established by the church as a means to translate Greek theological text for an English speaking western society it is now ranked as the number one university in the world.
In 900AD a low point in the bank of the River Thames (now present day Folly Bridge) created a natural river crossing for Oxen carting goods between nearby villages. This crossing became known as Oxenaforda… or Ox-ford. Overtime a village grew at the fork of the River Thames and the River Cherwell.
A little over a century after vikings raided the settlement, Oxford Castle was built to withstand the Norman Invasion. Thankfully for travelers, the castle never saw any action and still stands today exactly as it did in the eleventh century. Shortly there after the university was established.
With a ban put in place by the English crown preventing students from enrolling to the University of Paris, Oxford University saw an explosion in admissions. As time went on, the university expanded and became the powerhouse of intellectual thought and teaching that it is today.
Getting around Oxford is simple and one of the best ways to do so is without a map. The English-Saxon architecture makes any building photo worthy, but the most iconic photo is that of Radcliffe Camera. Established by Doctor John Radcliffe in his will, this circular building houses a small but impressive collection dedicated to the sciences. The name camera is not a reference to it’s photogenic architecture, but the Latin term for ‘room’. The best view of Radcliffe Camera is remarkably just meters away in the equally impressive University Church of Saint Mary the Virgin.
The University Church of Saint Mary was one of the first buildings of the university, and serves as the location of many convocation ceremonies. The steeple has been named one of the most architecturally beautiful in Europe. Saint Mary isn’t the only church occupied by the University, and it is well worth checking out Christchurch Cathedral. Christchurch is both a chapel and great luncheon hall. While there is an admission fee to enter Christchurch it is well worth the cost. The grounds are beautifully preserved and the stone work is immaculate.
It wouldn’t be worth mentioning Oxford without mentioning the Bodleian Library. This impressive collection is home to over twelve million books over the span of five city blocks on Broad Street. It is the second largest library in the country, just after the British Library.
Oxford is less than an hour North-west of London. Trains either depart directly from Paddington Station a quick change through Reading.